Colorado vs. Oklahoma State Preview: “T.I.P.S.” for the 2016 Alamo Bowl

Well, it’s come down to this.

A season which opened with Mike MacIntyre fighting to stay off the coaching “hot seat” is nearing its conclusion with Mike MacIntyre accepting virtually every Coach-of-the-Year award known to man.

A team which promised during the off-season that “The Rise Is Coming” proved prophetic, with the Buffs posting just the eighth ten-win season in school history … with a shot at the fourth-ever 11th win season.

In the other corner … The Buffs will square off against a 9-3 Oklahoma State team which pretty much met their list of expectations from four months ago. The Cowboys were coming off a 10-3 season in 2015, a campaign which included a Sugar Bowl invitation and a No. 20 final ranking.

Oklahoma State was predicted to do well again this fall, coming in at No. 16 in the Lindy’s and Sporting News’ preseason top 25 listings, and at No. 25 over at Athlon. When the Associated Press preseason poll came out, the Cowboys were pretty much right where they left off in the final 2015 poll, recognized as the No. 21 in the nation.

With a loss to No. 11 Colorado in the Alamo Bowl (Thursday, 7:00 p.m., MT, ESPN), the now 13th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys will finish in the 15-20 range in the final poll of the 2016 season … right about where they were ranked back in August.

So let it be written.

So let it be done.

 

Your “T.I.P.S.” for No. 11 Colorado v. No. 13 Oklahoma State

 

T – Talent

The Cowboys’ offense runs through one of the best quarterbacks in the nation whose name you may not know: Mason Rudolph.

Put simply, when Rudolph plays well, Oklahoma State usually wins. Rudolph has surpassed 350 yards passing in five games this year, including two of the past four contests. Early this season, Rudolph threw for a school-record of 540 yards in Oklahoma State’s 45-38 win over Pitt. Additionally, Rudolph is the only player in the country this season who has surpassed 3,500 passing yards while throwing less than five interceptions.

Rudolph’s favorite target is first-team All-Big 12 wide receiver James Washington. The Biletnikoff Award semi-finalist had 62 catches for 1,209 yards (an impressive 19.5 yards per catch) and nine touchdowns. If the Buffs try to focus all of their attention on Washington, Rudolph can also rely on Jalen McCleskey (69 catches for 762 yards and seven touchdowns) and Jhajuan Seales (34 catches for 572 yards and three touchdowns).

So, are the Cowboys one-dimensional?

Hardly.

Freshman running back Justice Hill went for over 1,000 yards rushing this fall (187 carries for 1,042 yards and five touchdowns), earning first team Freshman All-American honors.

While the strength of the team is the offense, the defense has its share of talented performers as well. The Cowboys have a pair of first-team All-Big 12 performers on the roster – defensive lineman Vincent Taylor and strong safety Jordan Sterns. Taylor, one of six starters from the San Antonio area, had six sacks this season, while Sterns had a season-high 19 tackles in the regular season finale against Oklahoma.

And … it must be stated … Oklahoma State could have a distinct advantage in special teams. The Cowboys kicker and punter were both second-team All-Big 12 standouts this season, both being semi-finalists for national awards.

Special teams prowess have helped the Cowboys to lead the nation in an overlooked statistic: Opponent’s starting field position. The average drive for OSU opponents started at their own 23.8-yard line, a factor that’s helped the Cowboys rank fourth in the Big 12 in scoring defense.

Oklahoma State: A good all-around team with few glaring weaknesses … about what you would expect from a team with a 9-3 record land a No. 13 national ranking.

 

I – Intangibles

Colorado and Oklahoma State both played for conference championships in their most recent game.

The Buffs fell to the fourth-ranked Washington Huskies, 41-10, in the Pac-12 championship.

The Cowboys fell to the seventh-ranked Oklahoma Sooners, 38-20, in the de facto Big 12 championship.

Both teams lost out on a conference title; both teams lost out on the opportunity or a New Year’s Day bowl.

Buffs and Cowboys, on the same page mentally?

I don’t think so.

Oklahoma State has been under head coach Mike Gundy for 12 years. The Cowboys failed to make a bowl game in Gundy’s first season, 2005, but have been to a bowl game every year since. The last five seasons, Oklahoma State has played in January, including a Sugar Bowl appearance last season.

Colorado, as Buff fans well know, has not been to a bowl game since 2007.

Cowboy players know nothing but post-season play, with every player on the team having been to a bowl game every year they have been in Stillwater.

Buff players have no history with post-season play, with nary a single player on the team having been to a bowl game since coming to Boulder.

So, which team has the advantage?

The team which is used to being in a bowl game? Or the team which has never been there before?

The Cowboy players and coaches certainly know the bowl routine, with holiday practices and the distractions which come with bowl week.

But I’m going with the Buffs here.

Oklahoma State players and coaches, used to January bowl dates, are traveling and practicing over Christmas for the first time since their last Alamo Bowl appearance, in 2010.

Colorado players and coaches are traveling and practicing over Christmas … and are excited for the opportunity.

“Ever since we got here, going to a bowl has been one of our goals,” said Buffs defensive back Chidobe Awuzie, a member of Mike MacIntyre’s first recruiting class in Boulder. “That was always a goal, but this year, we set the bar higher.

“Now, it’s really important that we go there and actually win. You want to leave a legacy, but you also want to leave a foundation for the younger guys coming up. You want them to see what it takes to be successful — and for us, it’s important because we want to finish on a high note. We want to make sure there’s no doubt that what we did here this year was special.”

All other things being equal, go with the team which has more to prove, and is more focused.

That would be Colorado.

 

P – Preparation / Schedule

Over the past two weeks, Colorado prepared for its first bowl game in nine seasons … with its defensive coordinator two time zones away.

Jim Leavitt, who played a significant role in putting together a defense which finished 17th in the nation in total defense, and 19th in the country in scoring defense, left for Oregon on December 14th.

Since then, the defense has been led by safeties coach Joe Tumpkin, with cornerbacks coach Charles Clark taking over the entire secondary.

Tumpkin, who served as defensive coordinator at Central Michigan for five seasons before coming to Colorado two years ago, said the game planning process and gameday play calling won’t be any different.

“We’re all in the same room together, we’re all doing the same thing, it’s just going to be a different guy calling it,” Tumpkin said. “We know what we’re going to play, we know what we’re going to call, we know how we’re going to run it. Nothing’s going to change. We’re going to run 3-4, we’re going to get after people, we’re going to try to be aggressive and play good Colorado football.”

Any other scheduling advantages/disadvantages?

Colorado sold out its 6,000 of allotted tickets, requested 500 more … and sold those as well.

Those are just the tickets bought through the CU athletic department, with thousands of other Buffs acquiring tickets through other sources. According to Mike MacIntyre, Colorado has sold more tickets to the Alamo Bowl than any other Pac-12 team which has been invited to play there.

Still, there will be more than enough orange-and-black clad Oklahoma State fans in attendance. Last season’s game, between TCU and Oregon, attracted 64,569.

So make that a whole lot of orange-and-black clad Oklahoma State fans.

Then there is this … Oklahoma State has 70 Texans on its roster.

Yes, 70.

Oklahoma State has more Texans on its roster than any other team which is not based in Texas. (Kansas is second, with 47).

Eight Cowboys went to high school within an hour of San Antonio, including six starters.

That’s a whole lot of friends and family coming to the game to cheer on the local boys.

(Colorado has one player on its roster from the San Antonio area, offensive lineman Chance Lytle, who is gray-shirting this fall).

Advantage, Oklahoma State.

But then there is this

The Pac-12 Conference has been criticized for its scheduling so many late night games. Such is the nature of television contracts and the geography of the teams in the conference.

The Big 12 Conference, meanwhile, has a different problem. In order to get its games on television, the Big 12 teams are used to playing their games earlier in the day. Oklahoma State, for example, had six of its games kicking off before noon Central time this year.

The Cowboys had only one night game all season, a 6:30 p.m. kickoff against Baylor … and lost, 35-24.

The Buffs, meanwhile, had six night games this fall … and went 5-1 in those games.

The 2016 Alamo Bowl kicks off at 8:00 p.m., Central time.

Just sayin’ …

 

S – Statistics

Strength v. Strength.

Oklahoma State has the ninth-best passing offense in the nation, averaging 322.8 yards per game. Colorado, meanwhile, has the 13th-best passing defense in the nation, giving up only 182.5 yards per game.

Oklahoma State is 17th in the country in total offense … Colorado is 17th in the nation in total defense.

Oklahoma State is scoring 38.7 points per game – 18th nationally. Colorado is giving up 20.5 points per game – 19th nationally.

Sounds like a pretty good match-up.

So, are there any deficiencies in the 9-3 Cowboys?

Well, it appears that Oklahoma State wins games by out-scoring its opponents. The Cowboys are ranked 90th or worse in the nation in rushing defense (91st), passing defense (96th), and total defense (108th).

In the regular season finale, a 38-20 loss to No. 7 Oklahoma, the Cowboys surrendered 629 yards of total offense, including 341 yards rushing. In Oklahoma State’s other loss to a ranked team, a 35-24 setback to No. 16 Baylor in September, the Cowboys gave up 523 yards of total offense to the Bears … despite having a 41:27 to 18:33 advantage in time of possession.

The Colorado offense, which struggled mightily against Washington in the Pac-12 championship game, will have to regain its form, if the Buffs are to out-score the Cowboys and bringbring home an Alamo Bowl title.

 

Prediction … Bowl games are difficult to predict.

That sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true.

Both teams have 15 practices to prepare for their bowl game, but different teams use the practices for different purposes.

Some teams are focused on the task at hand, with a bowl victory the aim to cap off a successful season.

Some teams are more focused on the future (See: Colorado, 1991, when Bill McCartney installed a new offense during bowl practices, looking for a jumpstart to the 1992 season. The result: Alabama 30, Colorado 25).

Some teams are excited to be at their bowl venue, while others are less than thrilled at their bowl invitation (See: the Famous Idaho Potatoes Bowl. Idaho was appearing in just the third bowl in school history, with the Vandals playing like they had something to prove before their 2018 relegation back to the FCS Big Sky Conference. Meanwhile, Colorado State was less than excited to be playing in the cold in Boise against the fourth-place team from the Sun Belt Conference. The result: the 14-point underdog Vandals raced out to a 41-7 lead before settling for a 61-50 upset of the Rams).

How does this translate to the 2016 Alamo Bowl?

All of the intangibles point to the Buffs.

Colorado is excited to be participating in the bowl process … Oklahoma State has played in bowls for 11 straight seasons.

Oklahoma State players are on the road for Christmas for the first time in six years (having played in New Year’s Day games the past five seasons). The Cowboys hit San Antonio on Friday, taking Christmas Day off.

Buff players are on the road for Christmas for the first time in their careers … and don’t mine. The Buffs practiced on Christmas morning before taking the afternoon off to attend an NBA game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Chicago Bulls.

A bowl game is a reward for a season well played, but the game itself can mean more to one team than the other.

As CU senior outside linebacker Jimmie Gilbert noted after Sunday’s practice, “I don’t think anyone has lost sight of the fact that we’re here on a business trip. We’re going to enjoy our time, enjoy the activities, but we’re still being as focused as possible.”

The Pac-12 championship game loss to Washington left a bad taste in the mouths of the Buff players.

The Buff defense, full of proud seniors, will not want to go out with two straight humbling losses.

The Buff defense, full of proud seniors, will want to show that they can still perform well without former defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt on the sidelines.

Sefo Liufau, CU’s first three-time captain in over a century, will want to erase some of the memories of his three-interception performance against the Huskies.

The last time these two teams met, in 2009, the final score was 31-28.

The last time Colorado played in the Alamo Bowl (against Wisconsin), the final score was 31-28.

Colorado is a three-point favorite against Oklahoma State.

So, it stands to reason that the final score will be 31-28, Colorado.

I don’t think so … the Buffs just want this one more …

No. 11 Colorado 38, No. 13 Oklahoma State 28

—–

 

7 Replies to “Oklahoma State – A Preview”

  1. Stuart thank you for another great year!!

    I think if we see Sefo making good decisions the BUFFS will win big 44-26.

    If Sefo is over and under throwing and missing open receivers it will be a long day and I think a 39-16 CU defeat.

    But I am betting on Cu finishing strong and continuing the RISE !!

    GO BUFFS !!!!!

  2. Stuart, thank you for all of your hard work on CUATTHEGAME. It is truly appreciated! I think Sefo will have a huge game like he did against Washington State and goes out a winner 42-24! Go Buffs!

  3. Ah the 27th. Merry Christmas again.
    What a Mighty Buff Year
    10 wins (so far)
    “Mac2-The Great”, snarfing up all the “Coach of the year awards”
    Leavitt Leaving.
    Lindgren staying.

    ESPN Pac-12 position rankings

    Buff Defense Pac-12 Position Unit Rankings
    D line……………..#3
    Defensive backs……..#1
    Linebackers…………#2

    Buff Offense Pac-12 Position Unit Rankings
    Quarterbacks………..#5
    Running backs……….#5
    Receivers…………..#4
    O-Line……………..#9

    GO BUFFS

    Though “Un-recognized by many” but “rewarded by one” there is no question who the MVC was on the Mighty Buffs.

  4. Yes – Stuart thanks for all the information you provide weekly to Buffs fans like myself and so many others that visit this site.

    OSU’s offense scares me because of it’s ability to score points but like you mentioned I think the defense (especially the seniors)is looking to make a statement after the Pac 12 Championship game.

    I agree with NW Buff – the Buffs needs this game, so I think the team comes out motivated to prove this season wasn’t a fluke and the foundation for the #NewEra has been laid. I believe both teams move the ball up and down the field, but the defense makes some stops (and gets turnover)and secures the victory- CU 41 OSU 31!

    Looking forward to heading to San Antonio tomorrow and watching Ralphie run at the Alamo Dome.

    GO BUFFS!

    1. I had a similar reaction to Okie State’s offensive numbers. But, Clark, if you’re bored. Go on ESPN and look at the defensive stats for OSU’s most recent opponent for the Sooners…Their defensive stats are not very good. The point? OSU might have such great offensive numbers by virtue of playing in the League of No Defense. I have no proof for their other opponents this year, but if OU is the best of the Big 12 with their mediocre defense…then perhaps Okie State is so successful on offense bc they haven’t faced a true test. I hope

  5. Thanks for ALL 14 of the 2016 T.I.P.S Stuart and all that you post and share @ cuatthegame.

    I agree that having three 31 -28’s does not have a good feel about it!

    The Buff’s need this one; so it is a TD on their final Offensive possession and then a D stop to seal the win. CU 34 – OSU 28 I want a BUFF WIN in a well played and hard fought game, against a very good opponent; just some icing on the The Rise ! GO BUFF’s !!!!!!!

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